DEAR MISS MANNERS: While attending a formal dinner hosted by my boss at his home, I may have committed a faux pas while attempting to avoid one. My sainted mother taught me that manners are to make other people comfortable and to take my cue from the host or hostess when attending events, as well as not pointing out the failings of others.
At the table, the place settings were set with three forks for three courses. When the second course was served, my boss began using the "wrong" fork. Recalling mother's teachings, I followed suit so as not to cause any embarrassment or unease for the host, especially as he was seated immediately to my left. The gentlewoman seated to the right of me gently kicked my leg and whispered that I was using the wrong fork.
It was a difficult moment being caught between using the correct fork to ease her concerns and using the fork as dictated by the host so as to avoid any embarrassment to him. Because it appeared the guest was more concerned about it than the host appeared to be, I chose to use the correct fork and thanked her.
Should I have ignored the host's use of silverware from the beginning to avoid the subsequent problems of kicking and whispering? Or should I have persevered in my use of the fork as dictated by the host?
Alas, there was no hostess who might have broken the deadlock. What does the well-meaning person do when caught in a situation where proper manners may also cause discomfort?
GENTLE READER: What a ghastly dinner party this must have been, with all of you monitoring one another's eating habits. Didn't anyone at the table know how to make conversation?
Miss Manners realizes that people think she lives for opportunities to humiliate someone for the crime that so rattled you and the other guest. It must therefore come as a shock to hear that at dinner parties, she looks into the faces of other guests, not into their plates.
Your well-meant gesture was silly because it assumes that your boss does not know enough about flatware to set his own table correctly, and yet was watching what you did and would have been mortified if your choice of forks was different from his. That would have been a strange combination of ignorance and vigilance.
Of course, you had an example of that in the guest who was checking up on you. As your sainted mother would have understood, that was the greatest rudeness committed at that meal.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: A co-worker has confided in me (and many others) that she is having an affair with a man "who has not yet left his wife." Most people are disgusted, but she seems blissfully unaware. I wish to be nonjudgmental, but I can't tell her this is a good thing. I want to scream that she is a fool and he is scum, but I realize Miss Manners would probably disapprove. I'm tempted to say nothing and just do the eye roll.
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners even disapproves of the eye roll. She doesn't mind your being judgmental, which that most certainly is, but she minds its being expressed rudely. The polite way to show disapproval is to say gently, "I really would rather not hear about it."